There is an interesting story about how Ottawa Sands County Park became the newest addition to the Ottawa County Parks system. The 345-acre property, tucked between North Ottawa Dunes County Park and City of Grand Haven Open Space, was formerly used for sand mining but has been inactive in recent years. It is part of a six-mile long, 2,400-acre public coastal corridor and includes approximately 5,600 feet of Grand River frontage, an 80-acre, man-made inland lake and 219 acres of state designated critical dunes.
In the fall of 2017, the owner of the Ottawa Sands property approached Ottawa County Parks with an offer. They would sell the property, donating 25% of the $11.22 million land value (approximately $2.8 million), if the property was purchased in its entirety and the sale completed before the end of 2018. In December, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) board recommended $4.2 million, approximately one half of the acquisition cost, be allocated toward the acquisition. The county was encouraged to submit a grant application for additional funding to complete the purchase in the next grant cycle (2018).
With an eye toward completing the purchase within the year, Ottawa County Parks approached the Land Conservancy of West Michigan (WMLC) for help. The WMLC secured a $4 million, short-term loan from The Conservation Fund, a national organization that provides low-interest loans for conservation projects.
The Land Conservancy has leased its half of the property to Ottawa County Parks to manage. Once the funds have been raised to pay off the loan, the property will be transferred to and fully owned by Ottawa County Parks. In the interim, both organizations are working to secure the remaining funds needed to protect all of the property. The Land Conservancy must raise a minimum of $200,000 to cover costs related to the loan. Ottawa County Parks has submitted a 2018 grant application to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) and in December will learn if the grant has been approved. To ensure the MNRTF will look favorably on the project and recommend the final grant to pay back the loan, it is critical for both organizations to raise public interest and financial support for the park. “The Trust Fund grant is critical to the success of this project, and they will be looking to see how much the community stands behind it,” said Land Conservancy Executive Director Joe Engel. “Strong public support is crucial; the more we are able to raise before the final grant decision, the more likely the trust fund is to approve the grant.”
Ottawa County Parks Director, John Scholtz, envisions Ottawa Sands could eventually offer a sprawling natural area offering a dramatic dune landscape and swimming, fishing, hiking, biking, kayaking and wildlife viewing opportunities for visitors and maybe even a campground in the future. “There (are)…just so many things you could do there,” he said. However, when the park opens on October 15 “the site will remain undeveloped, with very limited amenities – basically just opportunities to view and hike the property. Actual park development is likely several years away. Since the addition of this property to the county parks system was unexpected, funds are not available for its immediate development,” said Scholtz. “The first step toward long-range improvements will be to create a master plan for the site. The master planning process will include multiple opportunities for public participation and comment.” (If grant funding allows the county to acquire the remainder of the property, the process could begin as early as fall of 2019.)
To contribute to the project and help save this land for public enjoyment and nature preservation, please visit: naturenearby.org/ottawasands